Working Class Hero
Ken Smith, Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2018)
The history of British poetry from 1945 mirrors the rise of the working class voice in the novel. The first Labour government returned in 1945 gave aspirations for homes fit for heroes returning from the war and, it was hoped, a state which would ensure the welfare of all its people. At the same time, the political and social idealism meant that many new voices emerged with a critical perspective, especially on the old order.
Born in 1938, Ken Smith was the son of an agricultural labourer in Yorkshire who saved enough to become a greengrocer in Hull. Obviously bright, his son passed his 11+ examination and went to grammar school as part of the Labour government’s new broadening of education that then extended to university education. Smith, however, did not go to university immediately, having to help in his father’s business and then do his National Service, but was able to enroll for the English degree at Leeds University in 1960. By this time he was also married, but this was no damper on his literary aspirations. Leeds must have been inspiring for the mature student-cum-budding poet: Geoffrey Hill was a young lecturer there and there were editorial duties in the weekly Poetry & Audience, through which he met Jon Silkin, with whom he would later edit Stand (1963-1969) and Tony Harrison was there as a student in the Classics Department. Upon graduation, having started a family, Smith took variety of ...
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